Part two

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Two years in and your hives are in the wrong place!

This is aimed at bee-keepers with one or two years experience who may feel that bee-keeping is not as easy as it appeared! None of what follows is intended as anything other than tips for an easier life. My methods will not suit everyone so please pick out the parts that are relevant to you and adapt them if necessary to suit your own situation.
So, you have suddenly realised that your hive is in the wrong place. Don’t despair, this is just the right time of the year to do something about it and move your hives. The three miles or three feet rule is ideal when the bees are flying but three weeks will suffice in the winter. Watch the weather forecast, three weeks of nice cold weather that will keep your bees inside and you can move your bees wherever you like. If you get an unexpected warm day during those three weeks then closing them up with ventilation is possible. When they do start flying there may be a few return to the old site as winter bees seem to have a long memory but they will hopefully have found their way home by the evening. If however you just want to turn the entrance into a different direction then do it when the bees are flying and turn the hive a maximum of 30 degrees every flying day. If you turn them a full 90 degrees in one movement you will see them banging their head on the sides of the hive wondering where the entrance has gone!
So what is the perfect site? I have nearly always kept bees in my garden but I have never had less than half an acre. I would suggest that a small urban back garden is not impossible but it is also not ideal. Bees have bad hair days too. They will swarm despite your best intentions and if that swarm ends up in your neighbours chimney then the blame will fall on you. During inspections, neighbours and passers-by may get stung. If you haven’t got a nice open site then be prepared to have another site you can move your bees to at short notice. It is likely that day will come. On one occasion I had to move my bees for convenience. I approached a local country hotel who welcomed the idea of bees in their orchard and bought all my honey for use in the hotel. You just have to ask!
Even in a large garden bees can cause problems so try not to have the entrance turned towards where people will pass. Defensive bees will see movement at a distance and may consider it a threat. It helps to get the bees above head height before they fly to a nectar source. It is fairly easy to fence them in with a six foot trellis. The bees see it as a closed fence and will fly over the top rather than through the holes and it has the benefit that you can grow things over it. Once height is gained they tend to stay there. You could face them towards a hedge or fence so that when they leave the hive they circle for height before heading for that nectar source but remember hedges (and grass) need cutting and the smell of cut vegetation rings alarm bells in a beehive, an instinct from their tree dwelling days.
I had my bees at the bottom of a 200 foot garden. On the other side of my house was a field of crops. My house had a single story extension with a flat roof. The quickest route for the bees was over the flat roof. The four big roofers laughed when I suggested they waited a few weeks before renewing my roof felt. They got half way through ripping the old felt off when they felt the need to ask for a hat each. Bees were getting stuck in their hair. Back on the roof. Two minutes later a roofer jumped off rather than using the ladder. They packed their bags and left me with half a roof until I could assure them the bees had gone. When bees find a crop they will fly to it by the shortest possible route and if someone gets in the way they can get quite feisty, and when there are thousands of them all headed in the same direction even burly roofers quit!
The next thing to do is to make sure your hive is on solid ground. Bare earth is not sufficient for three or four full supers. The legs may sink and a toppled hive is no joke (A story for another day!).
Paving slabs are good but I use sheets of ‘heavy duty gate protection grass mats’ made of hard rubber. They come in 1 x 2 meter sheets and when placed on top of weed suppressant and covered in chippings look great and do the job perfectly. It saves having to cut grass immediately round the hive and they are easy to move and fit in a car. They are available on the internet or at farm suppliers.
You may also want to think about your hive stand. Most people I know make their own. Not too low so that you have to bend to inspect a brood box but not too high so that you need a ladder to put the roof on and they become unstable in the wind. 30 - 40 cm is good for me. Breeze blocks will do. I build my stands the width of a hive so that I can inspect my hive from either side where the frames run from front to back. (Turn the hive 90 degrees if you have the frames running from side to side!) I have found it useful to have the stand much longer than the hive. Under the hive is a space to allow debris to fall to the ground through the open mesh floor but the rest is boarded so that I can put supers on whilst I remove them from the hive during inspections or just simply keep my kit box to hand. It saves all the bending with heavy boxes.
Remember that your stands take a huge weight so make a frame for your hive to sit on and then fix the frame on the top of the legs of the stand. That way all the weight is pressing down onto the legs. If you fix the legs to the side of the frame all the weight is on the screws or nails you used to make it!
Hives can get top heavy so on exposed sites I also knock a pole in each side of the hive so that I can put a ratchet strap from one pole, over the roof of the hive to the other pole.
Finally I find that it is really good to have some sort of leafy shrub or tree between your house and your hive. If you have ‘following’ bees then walk round the shrub or under the low branches and the bees will get brushed off and return to the hive.
Getting the position of your hive right is so important. All too often beginners put their hives where they look nice!
To sum up. A firm base. A sturdy stand. Room to put extra hives. An uninterrupted flight path from the entrance unless you need to get them above head height. Vegetation close by for removing followers and in an ideal world face the entrances more towards the rising sun which helps the bees to start flying early and lengthens their foraging time. Finally, if in an urban setting, a bolt hole to take your bees to if it all goes wrong!
My tip for the month. Don’t ever throw your veil over your head thinking ‘I will zip that up later’. Its too late to remember when the bees are inside the veil!

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